Serbia Arms Experts Query Value of Russia's 'Gifts'

Military experts say Russia's 'gifts' of planes and tanks may turn out to be expensive for Serbia in the long run, as they are out of date and may require pricey adaptation.

Russian arms "donations" arranged on Wednesday between Serbian Prime Minister Aleksandar Vucic and Russian Defence Minister Sergey Shoygu, will cost Serbia 180 to 230 million euros - as Serbia will receive only old technology that needs updating, experts warned.

“This gift may be used only if the government invests money in it, so it has been stated. That means the planes are not in an operational condition,” military expert and former army officer Ljubodrag Stojadinovic, told BIRN.

“This gift is expensive if we have in mind what the price is, and especially when we keep in mind the costs of maintenance and whether the equipment is fully operational even after the repairs,” he added.

During his visit to Moscow, Vucic agreed with Minister Shoygu that Russia would give Belgrade six MiG-29 jets, 30 T-72 tanks and 30 BRDM 2 reconnaissance vehicles.

Vucic mentioned talks on acquiring BUK 1 and 2 anti-aircraft systems but it is not known whether a deal was reached on this system.

“It is not good when decisions concerning defence are made by only one person,” Stojadinovic said, suggesting that Vucic made the decision on the controversial acquisitions by himself.

“At the meetings we could not see the chief of staff, the commander of air defence or any people from the army institutes - no one who could help [Vucic] with tactical and operational knowledge. Serbia should acquire new technologies, but only based on an assumption about who or what it is defending its air space from,” Stojadinovic said.

He also said that T-72 tanks are no longer made or used by any countries with a high level of technological development.

Stojadinovic also called for Serbian army investment, saying it should start from the “bottom”, since the salaries for junior officers and soldiers are too low.

Members of the Military Union of Serbia staged a street protest on November 27 in Belgrade, the first such protest in Serbian history over low salaries in the army.

The union president, Novica Antic, told BIRN on that occasion that more than 75 per cent of people employed in the army earned below the average wage [around 420 euros] which was undermining the operative ability of the army.

It is also a question whether Serbia needs more tanks at all, since the army already has 225 in total, mainly models T-84, which were made in former Yugoslavia, plus Soviet-era T-72s.

According to the portal GlobalFirePower, Serbia is in 55th place of the world list when it comes to tank power.

Aleksandar Radic, an expert on military issues, told BIRN that Serbia has more tanks than all the other former Yugoslav countries combined.

“When it comes to tanks and transporters, it looks like the Russians demanded that we take them, since our army has more than enough tanks,” Radic said.

Vucic’s visit to Moscow was agreed at the beginning of the December while Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov was in Belgrade.

During Lavrov’s visit, his Serbian counterpart, Foreign Minister Ivica Dacic, announced that Belgrade was to get some “arms donations” from Russia.

“Serbia has asked Russia to donate arms, including MiG-29 planes. Since we have asked for them as donations, Serbia will pay only for the adaptation of those arms for Serbia's needs,” Dacic insisted.